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Why John Stockton remains the most underrated basketball player of the 1990s

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John Stockton still doesn’t get his due as one of the great point guards of all time.

What if I told you that one man sits atop the list of the NBA’s all-time leaders in two different stat categories?

What if I told you that man played in the ’90s, that he won all the damn time, and that he regularly left bewildered opponents slaw-jawed, staring, amazed at what he was able to accomplish?

As many of the basketball fans in Generation Z are about to find out as they continue their basketball education by watching “The Last Dance”, John Stockton was no joke.

What, you thought I was talking about Mike?

While Michael Jordan may be the reason John Stockton’s name doesn’t come up more often in the GOAT point guard debate (MJ snuffed out any chance he had at winning a title), it’s amazing to consider that this 6-foot-nothing, 100-and-nothing (ok, 170) substitute-teaching-looking dude from eastern Washington is even in the conversation.

Stockton is the NBA’s all-time assists leader. He’s the NBA’s all-time steals leader. You know who else tops the list in two of the NBA’s all-time stat categories?

No one.

He’s it.

So why isn’t Stockton appreciated like some of the other legends in his peer group? Why isn’t he brought up more often when people talk about Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, hell even Chris Paul and Steph Curry as the greatest point guards of all time?

There’s no doubt that much of it stems from the fact that he looks like your next-door neighbor who bikes all the time, that he played in Utah, and that MJ shut him out from capturing any Larry O’B’s.

Part of it is also that he shied away from commercials or major shoe contracts, that he was reserved and didn’t give the media much fodder, and that his game was almost as self-effacing as he was.

Stockton didn’t have Magic Johnson’s size or creative flair, he didn’t have Derrick Rose’s athleticism, or Steve Nash’s short-attention-span-friendly offense. The dude wore short shorts in the ’90s.

But believe me when I tell you that Stockton was as lethal as he was unassuming. His game belongs on an episode of “Dateline,” as the NBA star you’d never suspect.

Chris Webber once said that Stockton would drive up to the arena in a minivan, drop his kids off and then go kick your ass for 48 minutes.

When he played on the Dream Team in 1992, Stockton walked around Las Ramblas with a video camera and stopped people to talk about Team USA. No one even recognized him. While he was chatting with one fan, one of his kids ruined the surprise by pointing to her shirt, which had pictures of every player on the roster and said, “That’s my dad!”

That was John Stockton.

If you’re into cross-sport comparisons, Stockton was the Greg Maddux of basketball, a world-renowned artist who had perfected his craft, and killed you by doing the right thing, with precision, time and time again, flawlessly.

He was also tough-as-nails, with that skinny, 1-percent-body-fat kind of strength.

Webber said when his Kings took on the Jazz in the playoffs, he could see that his young teammates were in awe of Stockton and Malone, and he wanted to do something to set the tone.

“I told coach [Rick] Adelman before the game, I said first play of the game, I’m gonna lay Stockton’s ass out,” Webber said. “He said, ‘are you sure?’ I said, ‘yeah, trust me coach.’ I lay him out on a screen, I’m talking about, I lay him out, one of the best screens I ever did, got my shoulder in that head area too to kind of make it a little dirty … He pops up off the ground, pats me on the butt and says, nice screen. Do you know how demoralizing that is?”

Stockton was known by some as a dirty player, as someone who would stick out his knees on a screen or add a little extracurricular contact when the refs weren’t looking, but maybe that was his way of competing as a small, unathletic dude.

When Stockton was coming out of college, one scout admitted that he couldn’t remember whether he was looking for John Gonzaga from Stockton or John Stockton from Gonzaga. He was taken with the 16th pick in the 1984 draft, and thanks to Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan (the fourth-winningest coach of all-time) and Karl Malone (the NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer), his career skyrocketed past anything anyone would have dreamt of beforehand.

Of course, Stockton benefitted from playing alongside Malone, but many legends who played in that era contend that Stockton made Malone more than the other way around.

I’m sure he doesn’t care, and he doesn’t pay attention, but as long as we’re reminiscing about ’90s basketball, I think it’s time to put some more respect on John Stockton’s name.

Like a lot of things Gen X’ers might be learning about during “The Last Dance,” looks can be deceiving. But if you still want to doubt him, go ahead.

You probably wouldn’t get it unless you saw it for yourself anyway.

Also see:

Who is J.R. Smith, really?

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